Roderick Toombs, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, left home in his early teen years, spending nights in a youth hostel for 25 cents before he was introduced to combat sports through boxing at a local gym. At just 15, he was recruited into the ranks of professional wrestling, a refuge from the turbulent upbringing he had. He also picked up the bagpipes and became a member of the city of Toronto Pipe Band.
That enthusiastic youngster that fearlessly climbed into the ring for his first match with the grizzled Larry “The Axe” Hennig went from the streets of Saskatoon as Roderick Toombs to the main event of Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden as the iconic “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. From working preliminarily matches for $25 a night to working alongside John Carpenter on the set of the cult classic, “They Live” in Hollywood, the host of “Piper’s Pit” had one of the most storied lives in both sports and entertainment.
One of the most charismatic, controversial, and memorable figures of his generation, Roddy made his name of a hated villain, but in the process built a beloved legacy. Through the rough stages of his early years, Roddy always seems to remain authentic, which is why so many identified with him during his time in the ring. When Roddy spoke, the fans believed it because he believed it. The grittiness that Piper projected to an audience was forged by Toombs, as he clawed his way from poverty to pro wrestling prosperity. Obviously, these accomplishments were the subject of books, documentaries, and numerous discussions among fans. Still, his legacy is as complex as it is controversial, and quite simply, no one project can truly summarize the impact “Rowdy” Roddy had on the professional wrestling industry.
However, a newly-released collection of stories attempts to tackle not only Piper’s contribution to the business, but the influence he had on some of those that knew him best. Joe Dombrowski, a nearly 20-year veteran of the game as a commentator, video producer, and merchandise mogul, had dedicated his entire adult life to the business of the grappling arts. Dombrowski, the current host of Ring Of Honor’s Future of Honor segments, is one of the most well-known voices of the independent circuit, a staple of the Pittsburgh scene through his work with the International Wrestling Cartel, but also makes his way through various states, and even other countries as well. The producer behind the critically-acclaimed “Montreal Theory,” a deep dive into what exactly happened on that infamous night in 1997, and “Wrestling From The Heartland,” a glimpse into the extremely rare footage of Les Thatcher’s developmental territory, Joe looked to make Roddy Piper the subject of his next in-depth presentation, with the hope of providing a new angle of insight on the iconic athlete for the viewing audience.
“Roddy is one of the most iconic talents to ever exist in pro wrestling, with a story like absolutely no other. When the idea first came up, I immediately knew I would have a goldmine of wild stories, priceless experiences, controversy, and just an overall life impossible to be replicated today. I was really excited to get a chance to share the most authentic version of Roddy’s life I could, not through my eyes or even just his own eyes, but through the eyes of everyone that shared in that journey with him,” Dombrowski explained.
But, as mentioned, the man that once legitimately smashed a beer bottle over his head on live TV just to make a point about an upcoming cage match with The Sheepherders had many different sides to his persona. Roddy wasn’t perfect and he didn’t pretend to be, which allowed the audience to connect with him on a level beyond just the theatrics of the ring. Attempting to unwrap that mystery proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the nearly 18 months of work that went into this project. Joe spent countless hours in his home office, a room with carded WWF Hasbro figures and other memorabilia plastered on the walls, sifting though hundreds of hours of interviews to find even just a few minutes of a gem about Piper.
“Watching content and making notes, that part was mostly fun. The struggle comes with gathering the hundreds of clips and piecing together a narrative. I could have easily slapped it together as just a bunch of random stories and memories shared out of sequence, but I think Roddy deserves better than that. I wanted to take that same journey he did. While I won’t say we covered every top moment of his career due to time or lack of footage speaking on it, I do think we made it a point to hit every high point,” Joe commented.
“Legacy:Rowdy Roddy Piper” is an unfiltered look at the career of the man that changed the questions when so many thought they had the answers. This 4-hour feature attempts to answer those questions without a corporate spin or agenda. The gory details of his dog collar match with Greg Valentine at Starrcade in 1983 will be recounted by not only the man himself, but “The Hammer” as well. Backstage disputes that were avoided in previous productions on Roddy’s career are discussed extensively in this presentation by Piper and his peers that uncovered rarely discussed details.
“I’ve always loved hearing the old ‘war stories’ as told by the veterans who were there. I suppose, if anything, it gave me insight to the different facets of Roddy and his psyche. some of the things he struggled with, some of the pitfalls he dealt with. I hoped for this piece to be very authentic, I don’t think the average viewer will agree with 100% of Roddy’s thoughts and viewpoints, but I hope they’ll walk away with a better understanding of them. It’s a fun and revealing look into one of the most unique times our industry has ever seen and one of the most polarizing individuals to have lived through it,” Dombrowski remarked.
Aside from his battles in the ring, this production sheds some light into the business mind of the Rowdy one as well, his rocky road into the harsh business always kept him leary of a promoter’s promises. He kept his guard up with how his persona was presented, as he knew it was the sum total of his work in the ring, but also extended beyond the squared circle with the opportunities it brought him with film work. Roddy knew that sports entertainers, especially those from his generation, weren’t given a fair shake my times by management. Despite hundreds on pro bouts a year in the ring, he found something as conventional as health insurance on set through his membership with the Screen Actor’s Guild. One of the most intriguing aspects of the “Legacy” presentation is an observation into Roddy’s mindset about being able to say a step ahead of the promoters to give himself more options.
“Maybe there’s a long-time Piper fan out there just learning some things about Roddy for the first time. Maybe there’s an up-and-coming wrestler who’s seen some of Roddy’s stuff and wants a crash course to learn more. Regardless, I love having being able to create something that can have an impact on an audience, and that’s something Roddy never failed to do himself,” Dombrowski explained.
So, as much as the life and career of Roddy Piper was covered and celebrated for its iconic status, Dombrowski’s “legacy” production is a deep dive into the stories that be new information for even the most diehard fans. With dozens of his peers to add to the wild tales, this feature is yet another example of one of the most legendary careers in the history of sports entertainment.
You can follow Joe Dombrowski on Twitter @joe_Dombrowski
For more information about “Legacy:Rowdy Roddy Piper” you can go to joe-dombrowski.com and prowrestlinglibrary.com
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